Lottery Tickets for AL/NL-Only Leagues (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy managers can typically separate themselves from their opponents by selecting players in later rounds who return early-round value. However, figuring out who these players are can a massive challenge. Selecting players in the eighth round and later who produce season-long results can be the difference from a mediocre fantasy season to one that results in a championship.
I will define lottery tickets as players going at or later than the 150th pick in fantasy baseball drafts. Here are players to target at this range who can help deliver you a fantasy baseball championship in AL and NL-only leagues.
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is using FantasyPros consensus ADP
AL Only League Targets
Justus Sheffield (SP – SEA): ADP 152
Just two seasons, Sheffield started a career-high 10 games last season for the Seattle Mariners after getting traded from the New York Yankees. He had some ups and downs last year but came away with an overall successful year. Sheffield posted a tremendous 3.17 FIP and showed flashes of being a front-end starter.
Although Sheffield tended to struggle with his control, he made up for his wildness by limiting the long ball (two home runs given up in 55.1 innings). His strikeout rate was down from 2019, but Sheffield will be a full-time starter once again this season who could round out a fantasy rotation. Sheffield is worthy of his ADP, and I would feel comfortable selecting him in the 130 range.
Dane Dunning (SP – TEX): ADP 155
The Texas Rangers recently acquired the 26-year-old Dunning in a deal that sent Lance Lynn to the Windy City. Dunning was solid in seven starts for the White Sox last year, posting a respectable 112 ERA+ and 3.99 FIP with 35 strikeouts in 34 innings. The top pitching prospect should be part of the Rangers’ rotation for the entire 2021 MLB season. He could carve out a nice role and bring back some excellent value as a fourth or fifth AL-only starter.
A.J. Puk (RP – OAK): ADP 159
Puk is in a tantalizing situation in the Bay Area. After being selected in the 1st round by the Oakland Athletics, he has a chance to carve out a strong role for the 2020 AL West champions’ bullpen. Jake Diekman is the presumed closer, but there’s a good chance Puk competes for that role. At the very least, Puk should eventually be used in high-leverage situations for one of the better teams in all of baseball. That’s a recipe for good fantasy success. Overall, it will be interesting to see how the Athletics use the strong throwing left-hander. Puk is one of the most interesting lottery tickets and one that could ultimately return championship gold.
Ty France (2B/3B – SEA): ADP 162
Last season, Seattle and San Diego made headlines by completing a seven-player deal that saw France go to the Pacific Northwest. France, who never truly received an opportunity to be a full-time player in San Diego, posted a .305/.368/.468 slash line in 43 games between his time with the Padres and Mariners. He should get a chance to prove his worth as a near-everyday DH for Seattle who could be in line for full-time third base duties if Kyle Seager (and his large contract) get shipped to a contender. France has shown great consistency and could be a good source of batting average, on-base percentage, and 15-20 home runs this season.
Wander Franco (SS – TB): ADP 166
At or atop MLB prospect lists for the past few seasons, Franco is a name many fantasy managers and MLB fans will recognize. We should see him at the major-league level at some point this season. He is a dynamic switch-hitter who should transition seamlessly from the minors to the majors. His ADP is exceptionally low in AL-only leagues; fantasy managers should consider reaching for him in the 120-140 range. Keep an eye on any updates from the Rays’ organization about the 19-year-old’s possible debut once the season gets closer.
Nate Lowe (1B – TEX): ADP 190
Lowe has been an above-average hitter in the majors, posting a career 107 OPS+. However, he never got an opportunity to play full-time for the Rays. That changes now with Texas acquiring the hard-hitting first baseman. Lowe should receive a much larger role with the Rangers, and I believe he will take advantage of it. He could potentially bring back 20-25 home runs with solid RBI production. Lowe also increases his value with his ability to play both first and third base. It should be interesting to watch how he does this year with a change of scenery.
Pete Fairbanks (RP – TB): ADP 198
I recently wrote about Fairbanks in an article you can find here, but I am targeting the 27-year-old flamethrower in all of my leagues. Fairbanks’ ADP is so low right now that selecting him comes with absolutely no risk. He was trusted in high-leverage situations all postseason and could return incredible value in holds, saves, and strikeouts. Nick Anderson‘s struggles could open the door for Fairbanks to have a career year. If you want a chance to win your league, taking Fairbanks is a great way to do so.
NL Only League Targets
Joc Pederson (1B/OF – CHC): ADP 158
Pederson is going from the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers to a Chicago Cubs team trending toward a rebuild. The powerful lefty takes over Kyle Schwarber‘s vacated role following a disappointing year, but a new environment could position Pederson to bounce back more into his 2018 and 2019 form.
As many fantasy managers know, selecting the free-swinging outfielder comes with a bit of a risk, as it’s mostly home run or bust. However, his ADP is factored into this new environment and his subpar season last year. I believe he rounds more into a 25-30 home run hitter with an .800+ OPS and a larger initial role than most people realize. As we’ve seen with Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber, Wrigley Field rewards power-hitting lefties. Pederson’s new environment benefits him, so he could be an excellent fourth or fifth outfielder to help round out your team.
Anthony Bass (RP – MIA): ADP 172
According to Craig Mish of the Miami Herald, Bass is the “very likely closer” for the Miami Marlins this year. The Marlins surprised baseball fans last year, and I believe they can do it again this season. They should offer plenty of save chances, and Bass could also return tremendous value in strikeouts. For a full-time closer, Bass’ ADP is a bit lower than I’d expect. Bass has posted 2.77, 3.90, and 3.62 FIPs for three different teams each of the past three years. Despite constantly moving locations, he has remained dependable. He should do the same in Miami. Also, who doesn’t love the fact that the Marlins signed Bass? It’s a match made in fantasy baseball heaven.
Edwin Rios (1B/3B – LAD): ADP 173
Rios is an exceptional and underrated hitter for the Dodgers. Although it’s a small sample size, he has a .260/.338/.634 slash line in two years with the Dodgers. That’s good enough for a .972 OPS, which will get the job done in any format.
Playing time is his ultimate issue. Max Muncy and the re-signed Justin Turner will continue to take most reps at the infield corners, which makes it challenging to project Rios reaching 250+ at-bats. However, the aforementioned Pederson’s departure could open up more opportunities for Rios to get playing time against right-handed pitchers. If Rios gets enough playing time, he could be a diamond in the rough who returns an incredible value for fantasy managers.
Josh Lindblom (SP – MIL): ADP 190
Lindblom is as underrated as they come. In 12 appearances for the Brewers last year, he posted 52 strikeouts and a 3.87 FIP to go along with a 1.28 WHIP in 45.1 innings. He was very dependable for the Brew Crew, but doesn’t get as much shine as Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. As great as Woodruff and Burnes are, Lindblom is in a prime position to be part of a three-headed monster in Milwaukee. He is going insanely low in almost all drafts. There are some red flags, whether it be his age and if he can actually have another successful season, but he will nevertheless be Milwaukee’s number three starter. Don’t hesitate to take him at his current ADP.
Emilio Pagan (RP – SD): ADP 194
Simply put, the Padres are going to win a ton of games. Their loaded roster will give the Dodgers a run for their money in the NL West. Having said that, there are going to be a lot of late innings to eat up in San Diego. In 2019, Pagan was coming off a 20-save, 3.30 FIP, 12.3 K/9 season, but he struggled in 22 innings for the Friars last year. He will again be trusted to shut the door in late innings. Drew Pomeranz and the recently acquired Mark Melancon complicate Pagan’s save chances, but he should still see a large role. If he can grasp the closer’s gig, Pagan would return massive value for fantasy managers. Look for Pagan to have a bounce-back season in 2021.
Miles Mikolas (SP – STL): ADP 203
Mikolas struggled when we last saw him in 2019, but his 2018 season was nothing short of spectacular. The right-hander had an 18-8 record to go along with a strong 3.28 FIP and only 29 walks in 200.2 innings. Mikolas was shaping up to become an ace, but things went downhill.
In 2019, both Mikolas’ FIP and ERA soared above 4.00. He was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 27 home runs in 184 innings. Mikolas sat out all of the abbreviated 2020 MLB season with an elbow injury, but has reportedly progressed well during the offseason. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mikolas wants to pitch between 170-200 innings this season. If he can maintain a role in the Cardinals’ rotation, he should bring value back at his current ADP. Although there may be some rough starts here and there, Mikolas has succeeded at the MLB level. I’m targeting him in the 200 ADP range, where he has virtually no risk,
Colin Moran (1B/3B – PIT): ADP 205
Moran is coming off a career year in Pittsburgh, slashing .247/.325/.472 to go along with a 115 OPS+ in 2020. Odds are he was a hot free-agent pickup in many leagues throughout the streaky year. Fast forward to this season, and Moran is the Pirates’ projected No. 3 hitter. Josh Bell‘s departure to the Washington Nationals should create more RBI opportunities for his former teammates. At this point in your draft, you’re mostly grasping at straws, but having the ability to select a middle-of-the-order bat — and an above-average one at that — should be a no-brainer. Expect some inconsistency with Moran. Yet if he puts it all together, he could be one of the best sleepers of the draft.
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